When Janet Jones retired three and a half years ago she didn’t have plans on returning to Farmersville Unified after spending 25 of her 39 years in education with the school district. She was just beginning to enter the next phase of her retirement when she received a call from Farmersville Unified School District (FUSD) Board President and longtime friend Don Mason asking her to consider coming back to the district.
“It’s kind of like when your kids grow up and leave the house you have that empty next feeling at first,” she said. “Then you get used to it and enjoy not having as many responsibilities. And a little later you have grandchildren and you get that feeling that someone needs you again.”
Jones was appointed as interim superintendent at the Jan. 19 meeting of the Board of Trustees. The Board voted 3-1 in favor of the former Farmersville superintendent with Jorge Vazquez the lone dissenting vote. Board President John Vasquez was absent. Trustee Al Vanderslice said Jones was hired on a six month contract to give the district time to conduct its investigation of Superintendent Ofelia Ceja-Lariviere, who was placed on administrative leave on Dec. 15.
“She knows the district, all of the employees and people in town,” Vanderslice said. “We know she can do the job and how honest she is.”
Mason said Jones was the only logical choice to help “sort out the mess” the district office is dealing with until the Board can get some answers from investigators.
“The [current] Superintendent never talked to us,” Mason said. “She didn’t keep us informed and kept us in the dark. Now we will wait for the investigators to tell us what they find.”
On Jan. 6, the Board voted 3-2 to contract with D. B. Hillman Consulting and Investigation in Clovis to investigate current Superintendent Ofelia Ceja-Lariviere, who was placed on paid administrative leave during a special meeting on Dec. 15.
Ceja-Lariviere was hired as superintendent on Aug. 28, 2014, after the school board voted to end the contract with her predecessor, Dr. Christina Luna, on Feb. 28, 2014. Luna was the district’s first Superintendent since Jones was fired and rehired in 2004 during a string of recall elections and political unrest.
Jones was a principal in Lindsay before taking a position as the principal of Farmersville Junior High School in 1987. After five years there, Jones moved into the District Office, first as director of personnel and then assistant superintendent. Then, at the end of the 1993-1994 school year, then Superintendent Stan Halperin stepped down, thrusting Jones into the superintendent’s position on an interim basis amidst a crucial crossroads in Farmersville public school history.
Jones took over FUSD just as the newly formed unified district was splitting away from the Exeter Union High School District. Since the formative years of the two communities, students in Farmersville attended elementary school in their hometown but once in high school were forced to choose between Mt. Whitney to the west and Exeter Union High School to the east. She led the fledgling district through a successful lawsuit, giving the district a little more than $1 million to be paid over five years.
“Trying to open up the lines of communication for everyone will be my focus area,” Jones said. “I have spoken to some of the board members and am meeting with people in the district as quickly as possible.”
Jones said she is readjusting to her old working habits by going to bed earlier and getting up at 5 a.m. to prepare for the day. On Jan. 21, her first day back on the job, Jones arrived at 7 a.m. and didn’t leave until 7 p.m.
“I didn’t even eat lunch and I’m usually pretty good about taking time out for lunch,” she said. “I just had so much to do I forgot to eat.”
The other adjustment is all of the new faces. When she left after the 2011-12 school year, Jones knew nearly every employee at every site by name and many of the children by their families. Since starting her first official day on Monday, she said she is spending most of her time learning the new names and faces in the district office.
“Ever since I was a high school principal it has been important for me to address people by their first name or as Mr. or Mrs.,” she said. “That respect and level of communication are very important to me.”
Jones said there are many new programs and laws that have taken effect since her retirement that she is trying to catch up on. Coming back mid-school year has also been somewhat of a challenge as the district begins preparing a budget for the next school year and the March 15 deadline to renew teacher contracts. And while her desk is cluttered with paperwork as she makes the mad dash to catch up, Jones said she is enjoying the bustle of the office, the structure of the workday and interaction with the staff. Jones will make her first appearance at the Trustees Feb. 23 meeting.
“When you retire you lose that sense of productivity,” she said. “Now I’m getting that sense of purpose back when you are part of work that is important to more than just you and your family.”
– Sheyanne Romero contributed to this article.